Earlier in the week rumours of a stampede in online search were reported.
Yesterday, Internet regulator Icann circled it’s wagons, for a vote on the future of domain names, which will have great significance for all of us.
They decided to loosen the strict rules on .coms and .orgs, and over the coming months we’re likely to see sites cropping up with all sorts of weird and wonderful upper level domains.
This decision has mixed consequences for those with a presence online. On the one hand, individuals and companies will have a broader means of distinguishing themselves from competitors and alternatives.
But they may end up expending much energy (time and money) in buying out every conceivable domain alternative to protect the uniqueness of their brand from competitors, hoaxers and protest groups.
But what does this decision mean for most of us using the Internet in our work and leisure – how will the search environment be affected?
Jeff Jarvis, writing in the Guardian today, suggests Google will be the main beneficiaries, taking advantage of our laziness/ignorance when it comes to web search.
But while its true there are still a lot of people out there who don’t or won’t type full urls into their browser address bar, any benefit to Google will have to be met with a major overhaul of how their simple search works.
Google is struggling enough with the proliferation of information being added to hyperspace every day – hence the explosion in alternatives to simple search.
Google doesn’t understand what words mean, and if it can’t even understand what a domain means, then its going to get even more confused, and no doubt bring back some very confusing results.
That’s not to say that Google as a company can’t or won’t adapt – of course they will, that’s why they’re so successful.
But if you can’t refine a search by domain type, and distinguish between having information returned from commercial, public-sector and NGO-type sources, then how on earth can you expect a simple search to determine the what, where, why, when and who of what you’re after?
In other words, the real losers in search terms will be those of us who uses the domain function (site: ) in Advanced search, which is essential toward more accurately finding contributors, statistics, background and analysis and all sorts of other things. Somethings going to have to fill the organisational void.
Step forward the real winners of this decision – those public directory-type sources like DMOZ and the Yahoo directory, who allow the searcher a browsing alternative to search. We are now officially heading away from simple search, and towards alternatives.
Other winners will include those semantic search engines out there who can impose meaning and order not only upon web content, but also upon all those new domain types we are likely to witness in future – like hakia and Powerset (which it is rumoured today, may be the subject of acquisition from MSN).
Speaking of MSN, I thought I’d append onto this piece something really disappointing I discovered yesterday.
During a routine trawl for search engines and methods, I found this page outlining some of the tricks available via MSN Search builder – MSN’s own unique take on Advanced search.
I’m not a big user of MSN, so was worried to hear I may have been overlooking a useful means of search.
But on closer inspection I discovered this information is a few years out of date – and it seems that some of the more interesting methods available, including the three Results Ranking options (which allow you to rank results by up-to-dateness, popularity, and how approximate you’d like your search to be found) have since disappeared, along with Search Builder itself.
Today there is no longer even a link to Advanced search on MSN’s UK page (though there is on Live search). Instead, under the search bar you will find examples of Popular searches – all fine and good for some research needs, but a serious letdown for those of us who want more from search engines.
Add to this the fact that Yahoo Mindset, which used to allow the weighting of results either toward research or shopping, has also now been down for a good few months now, and it looks like we’re going through a bit of a recession in advanced search.
You’d think given yesterdays decision, that the major Internet players would be beavering away working on all sorts of ways to improve recall, and provide searchers with a range of ways to refine and hone their searches…